Ford Mustang — The royalty of the road

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Between the spring of 1964 and its introduction at the New York World’s Fair and Memorial Day and the Indy 500 where it was the pace car the launch of Mustang was the talk of the town. Not just in Detroit but in every town across America.

For car buffs those were the days as all the talk on campuses and around the cracker barrels of America were about a strange but fetching coupe called the Mustang. Ford had earned considerable buzz by creating a new sporty coupe segment and they had a big head start on Chevrolet — and Dodge — in the so-called “pony car” wars. Ford in ’64, ’65 and ’66 had this new playing field all to itself.

The Mustang, the brainchild of Ford General Manager Lee Iacocca, proved an instant success, a sexy coupe built on the Falcon platform that sold an astounding 417,000 copies in its first year of existence and more than 1,000,000 by the end of its second year. Its success nearly canonized Iacocca.

It took General Motors nearly three years to answer with the Chevrolet Camaro. Dodge came on the scene a bit later with the Challenger.

Now, ironically in this age of hybrids and emerging electrics, the pony car wars — complete with big-horsepower V-8 engines and sub-six- second 0-to-60 times — have heated up again thanks to the Challenger, introduced two years ago, and the all-new Camaro, which started reaching showrooms this past spring.

But again Ford got the big head start. We’re speaking of the completely restyled retro 2005 Mustang. With Chevrolet sitting on the sidelines having retired the last-generation Camaro in 2002, the redesigned Mustang — with considerable styling cues from the original 1965 fastback — hit the ground running with more than 160,000 sales for the 2005 model year. It again had the field to itself until 2008.

Mustang racked up another 425,000 sales between January 2006 and June 2009 before the new Camaro started gaining some traction this spring and summer.

Ford has now updated the beautifully styled 2005, tweaking the exterior design in some interesting and artful ways, and completely making over the interior for the 2010 model year.

Granted, the ’10 Mustang may not have the sex appeal of the Camaro, which is still living in a honeymoon phase, or the truly retro Challenger, but it is unmistakable Mustang, as handsome as any previous rendition including the original.

We’ve spent some time with the 2010 edition and if we were to purchase one of the three new pony cars, we might in the end opt for the less sexy — less sexy perhaps because it has been around for so long — and horsepower-challenged Mustang.

And we say that even after a marvelous week behind the wheel of the 2010 Camaro, one of GM’s finest engineering and styling exercises in many years, and a fun-filled seven days in a Hemi-powered Challenger.

Although at a big horsepower deficit to the Camaro, the 4.6-liter Mustang V-8, generating 315 ponies, is a workhorse and has compared favorably to the gargantuan 6.2-liter V-8 generating 426 horsepower in the Camaro SS.

Head-to-head tests in Car and Driver magazine recorded the Camaro at 4.8 seconds 0-to-60 and the Mustang at 4.9. Quarter mile times were 13 seconds at 111 mph for the Chevy and 13.6 at 105 mph for the Ford. Motor Trend found Camaro at 4.7, Mustang at 4.9. Another head-to-head initiated by Automobile magazine had the Camaro at 4.8 seconds and the Mustang at 5.3. These minute differences are only magnified by obsessed gearheads.

Both cars are fast — no disputing that statement. It’s surprising, however, that the Camaro doesn’t rip the fenders off the Mustang, but it doesn’t. And really, who buys these cars to race on a deserted rural road? Hopefully, nobody! (The rejoinder being – don’t ask, don’t tell!)

We found that the lighter-weight and slightly smaller Mustang is more agile in the twists and turns than the Camaro, which has a five-inch longer wheelbase.

Even though the Mustang carries on with a solid rear axle, it handles as well as anything in its price range. If running hard and fast through the back-road turns is what turns your page, an optional GT TrackPack is recommended for the most cutting-edge performance.
We also liked the steering feel in the Mustang better than the Camaro. It’s quick and direct.

The Mustang GT offers a rewarding driving experience every time you crank up the engine and hear that intoxicating V-8 rumble. Ford has got the blood-pumping engine music down to a science. It makes the everyday Joe/Jill the king/queen of the road.

By the way, Ford says the V-8 will run nicely on regular gas, and that could very well save the Mustang owner hundreds of dollars a year. One thing, however, Ford says using premium will increase torque about 10 foot-pounds.

Ford has done just enough exterior work to give the Mustang an updated look from the 2005-2009 models. The biggest redesigns have come on the rear and front ends.

Ford’s best design work is with the interior, which is as quiet as any Mustang we’ve ever encountered. Even the convertible, which we drove for seven days in V-6 guise, offers a decent amount of solitude; unless, of course, you have opted for the optional Shaker sound system. In that case there will be no solitude (standard in the GT Premium).

Materials have been greatly updated with stitched inserts on the door panels and good-looking low-luster aluminum trim across the dashboard. And on certain editions the door panels carry bright metal Mustang logos to remind you that you’re corralled in a Pony car.

And now the cutting-edge voice-activated Sync multimedia integration system is available in all Mustangs.

If you occasionally carry two or three passengers, don’t mark the Mustang off you shopping list. We found that the back seat will actually accommodate two adults, at least for short trips. Entry and exit is not difficult and the rear seats are comfortable.

The Mustang also has a reasonable amount of trunk space at 13.4 cubic feet. And here’s the good part — the back seats fold forward in a 50/50 configuration to allow for carrying longer cargo.

The Mustang comes as a coupe or convertible with two trim levels in each category — base and premium V-6 and base and premium GT V-8.

The V-6 coupe starts at an affordable $21,845. The V-6 is not our choice, but if you are on a budget and want the great Mustang looks, decent performance and the interior attributes it may be the way to go. The GT V-8 starts at $28,845, so saving seven grand between the base V-6 and base V-8 may be just the ticket.

The V-6 edition is powered by Ford’s tried and true 4.0-liter engine generating 210 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque. It can be outfitted with either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. The V-6 convertible starts at $26,845 and the V-8 begins at $33,845.
We drove a V-6 Premium drop top for a week of fun in the sun carrying a bottom line of $31,235. A Premium GT coupe we drove carried a bottom line of $35,205 that included extras such as metallic paint, an anti-theft system, 19-inch machined aluminum wheels, heated seats, a 3.73 rear axle package and a rear video camera.

We fell in love with the 2005 Mustang GT, and our love for the modern pony car hasn’t abated one bit with the 2010 version.

Base price: $28,845; as driven, $35,205
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8
Horsepower: 315 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 325 pound-feet @ 4,250 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Length: 188.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,572 pounds
Turning circle: 33.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 4.9 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Hyundai Genesis Coupe

The Good:
• Powerful acceleration with great V-8 sound
• Ford Sync system
• Mustang mystique

The Bad:
• Weak V-6 engine in base model
• Mediocre fuel economy in both V-6 and V-8

The Ugly:
• Not a darn thing